Prospectors, Explorers, and Men of Chance

Today’s a big day. We’re taking possession of our new home, just a stone’s throw off East Colfax Avenue. Very exciting!

So today I’m geeking out on Colfax, shown below in all its 1970s neon glory. A more detailed history of Denver’s iconic Avenue of Sin can be found here, but here are the Cliffs Notes.

Colfax in the 1970s

• Colfax was originally called “The Golden Road” because back in 1850 or so, it’s how miners got from Denver to the mountains in their rush for the motherlode.
• Colfax was also called Grand Avenue and The Gateway to the Rockies.
• Colfax is 26.5 miles long and extends from the plains to the mountains.
• Colfax is referenced several times in Jack Kerouac’s 1957 Beat Generation novel On the Road.

On the Road
Boring. You probably already know all that already, right? Blah, blah, blah. So let’s get to the good stuff.

Colfax is named for Schuyler Colfax (an Indiana Congressman, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Vice President of the United States under Ulysses S. Grant), who back in the day had this vision for his namesake:

And that thoroughfare, born beneath the mountainous mountains of rocky peaks so high, seeing as it shall victual to prospectors, explorers, and men of chance, and whereas said men, in their sparse moments of recess and requiescence, require relief of an immediate and carnal conformation, let Colfax Way be a den of avarice, a cauldron of covetousness, a peccadillo wharf in a sea-storm of morality. Let not a man walk Colfax Way and wonder, ‘Where shall I deposit my virility this eve, where may I encounter mine intoxicant?’ for he shall find all he seeks on Colfax.

And here he is. Schuyler Colfax himself. He looks like a friendly storytelling grandpa with nothing more in his pocket than lollipops and bubblegum.

Which just goes to show you can’t judge a dirty politician sin monger by his bust.

Schuyler Colfax

Other things Colfax is known for: The Satire Lounge…

The Satire Lounge…where Bob Dylan, back when he was still Robert Zimmerman and covering Woodie Guthrie songs, got hissed off stage. This is also where the Smothers Brothers were discovered. They lived in the apartment above the lounge and were downstairs clowning around at the pool tables when a talent scout approached them and said they could make it big in entertainment. So they did.

And here’s another fun tidbit. This was the Bugs Bunny Motel…

Bugs Bunny Motel…which is now, due to copyright and all that, the Big Bunny Motel. Actress Sue Lyon, who played the titular character in Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film Lolita…

Lolita…lived here back in the early 70s. She met and fell in love with some dude incarcerated at the Colorado State Pen in Canon City for murder and robbery. Yep. She even married the guy and became a conjugal-rights advocate…

Sue Lyon Jail Bride…although she divorced him less than a year later because he broke out an committed another robbery. Anyway, needless to say, Sue fell on some hard times. Both, uh, financially and mentally. She started waitressing in Denver and moved into the Bugs Bunny. One day, she had an argument with someone there and threatened to throw herself out a motel window.

Had she followed through, this would not have had quite the dramatic effect I’m sure she’d hoped for. The motel being a one-story building and all, she might have ended up with a few scratches, maybe a bruised knee, perhaps some shrubbery in her hair.

I wonder what Sue is up to these days.

And although I’ll be living near East Colfax, I have to pay at least some small homage to our distant and less storied cousin, West Colfax.

Casa Bonita
Enough said.

Geeking on Googie

You know those old buildings with the sloped or angled roofs? The ones that throw you back to mid-century America’s manic preoccupation with space exploration and the atomic age? (Think gas stations, motels, fast-food restaurants, diners, laundromats, car dealerships, airports, and drive-ins.) Well, it turns out that that bizarre style of architectural weirdness has a name: Googie.

Yeah. Googie.

(It’s OK. I hadn’t heard of it either until a couple days ago.)

The word itself is just cutesy enough to sound like an appropriate adjective for structures designed in this particular style. As in, “Ooh! Look at the googie Space Needle! It’s simply adorable!”

Space Needle

Seattle’s Space Needle. Yes. It’s Googie.

Or, “Dude. Don’t tell anyone how googie I got in Vegas.”

Welcome to Las Vegas

The “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign. Also Googie.

But, in fact, the moniker has a sweeter origin.

The origin of the name Googie dates to 1949, when architect John Lautner designed the West Hollywood coffee shop, Googies, which had distinct architectural characteristics…Googies was located at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights in Los Angeles. (Wikipedia)

And here’s what Googie turned into over the next couple of decades:

Features of Googie include upswept roofs, curvaceous, geometric shapes, and bold use of glass, steel and neon. Googie was also characterized by Space Age designs symbolic of motion, such as boomerangs, flying saucers, atoms and parabolas, and free-form designs such as “soft” parallelograms and an artist’s palette motif. These stylistic conventions represented American society’s fascination with Space Age themes and marketing emphasis on futuristic designs….Some examples have been preserved, though, such as the oldest McDonald’s stand that was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. (Wikipedia)

The Oldest MacDonald's

The Oldest MacDonald’s. You guessed it: Googie.

As with any other rage, Googie went the way of the dinosaurs. Googies that once looked like this:

Googie Denny's

Now look like this:Googie RuinsAnd so it goes. But no matter. I’m happy to have found a name for this iconic style. I’m happy that “Googie” is such a googie word. And I’m happy to have dug up a couple of awesome Googie illustrations that take me right back to the musty pages of the 1961 Childcraft Encyclopedias that were, when I was a kid, the Source of All Information.

Childcraft EncyclopediasBecause who wouldn’t want to live in a Googie house on Googie stilts? I know I would.

Googie House